WJA Honors Industry Leaders at
2016 Awards for Excellence Gala 

Scholarship & grant winners also recognized for their achievements

New York, NY -- The 2016 Women's Jewelry Association Awards for Excellence Gala, which was held on July 27 in New York City, hosted over 600 attendees, and inducted three industry leaders into its WJA Hall of Fame. WJA also announced the 2016 winners of its Awards for Excellence in 10 categories. This year, the gala was held at a new location, the Hammerstein Ballroom at the Manhattan Center, a century-old former opera house and one of New York's most elegant special event destinations.

The event also raised $35,000 for the WJA Foundation's Scholarship and Grant program. To highlight the importance of the dinner for the latter purpose, the group also invited the winner of the WJA-Carelle Grant in honor of Brooke Tivol McGrath, Melissa Spencer of Spencer Fine Jewelry, to speak about the impact of the grant on her young business.

WJA bestowed its Hall of Fame Lifetime Achievement Award on Sissy Jones, owner of Sissy's Log Cabin. The Ben Kaiser Award, awarded to a deserving man who supports women leaders, was given to Peter Engel, president of Fred Meyer Jewelers. The Corporate Award was given to Ben Bridge Jeweler.

The 2016 WJA Awards for Excellence category winners were also named:
  • Design - Claudia Kretchmer, president, Steven Kretchmer.
  • Manufacturer/Dealer/Supplier - Tiffany Kay, owner, Tiffany Kay.
  • Retail 15+ Doors - Marta Nowakowski, VP, DMM Jewelry, Saks Fifth Avenue.
  • Retail <15 Doors - Jennifer Gandia & Christina Gandia Gambale, co-owners, Greenwich St. Jewelers.
  • Retail Non-Traditional - Kris Kulesza, senior vice president merchandising, Jewelry Television.
  • Sales - Maren Rosen, vice president, merchandising, Stuller, Inc.
  • Marketing & Communications - Jen Cullen Williams, managing director, Luxury Brand Group.
  • Editorial Media - Syl Tang, contributor, Financial Times Watches & Jewellery.
  • Special Services - Dona Mary Dirlam, director of RTL Library and Information Center, Gemological Institute of America (GIA).
  • Watches - Michelle Peranteau, for her work as former director of marketing and communications, Baume et Mercier.
An auction and raffle were held during the dinner to raise funds for next year's WJA scholarships and grants, and guests were also given the opportunity to donate funds via envelopes on each of the gala's tables. "Through your generous support, the WJA community is able to raise critical funds for our empowering and inspiring grant and scholarship programs," said WJA executive director Bernadette Mack. "WJA funds are helping a woman entrepreneur launch a new jewelry line in Los Angeles, aiding a student at Bowling Green State University, assisting a member from Minnesota buy new jewelry making equipment, and underwriting a military veteran who wants to make improvements to her budding designer jewelry business."

WJA President Brandee Dallow also announced a new WJA Cindy Edelstein Mentorship Award, which will be given in future years on an as-deserved basis, to honor the late Cindy Edelstein, who owned Jeweler's Resource Bureau and was a 20-plus year member of WJA's Board of Directors. Edelstein died suddenly in January 2016. "Cindy always gave people her time," said Dallow, in her tribute. "I got to know so many new people in the industry because of her, and I was always amazed by how genuinely she cared about people's well-being and feelings. I often wondered just how much capacity for good a person could have. But Cindy's capacity seemed - and proved to be - endless." The first WJA Cindy Edelstein Mentorship Award was given to Frank Stankus, Edelstein's husband and business partner, and Remy Stankus, her daughter.

At the WJA Awards for Excellence Gala WJA Foundation President Lisa Slovis Mandel, owner of Lisa Slovis Metalsmithing, San Diego, CA, celebrates with the winner of the 2016 Carelle-WJA Grant, Melissa Spencer of Spencer Fine Jewelry, Los Angeles, CA.

Nominees in the WJA Awards for Excellence Editorial Media category celebrate at the gala (l. to r.): Hannah Connorton, retailer account manager, Luxury & Luxury Prive - Reed Exhibitions (nominated for her work as former senior editor of National Jeweler); Shane Clark, senior fashion & accessories editor, Brides, and Barbara Palumbo, founder and editor-in-chief, Adornmentality.com. Missing from photo: Syl Tang, contributor, Financial Times Watches & Jewellery.

Nominees in the WJA Awards for Excellence Sales and Merchandising category celebrate at the gala (l. to r.): Maren Rosen, vice president, merchandising, Stuller Inc.; Rachel Jackson, jewelry director, The Knot; and Nikki Siegel, executive vice president, Armenta. Missing from photo: Ramona Genao-Archibald, executive vice president, sales and merchandising,Richline Group.

Nominees in the WJA Awards for Excellence Retail - 15 or More Doors category celebrate at the gala (l. to r.): Jamie Singleton, senior vice president, Signet Jewelers; Tobey Ritchie, vice president of development,  Harry Ritchie's Jewelers; and Jacqueline Cassaway, divisional vice president, Helzberg Diamonds. Missing from photo: Marta Nowakowski, VP divisional merchandise manager (DMM), Jewelry, Watches and Home, Saks Fifth Avenue.

About the Women's Jewelry Association
WJA's mission is to help women in the jewelry and watch industries advance and develop professionally through networking, education, leadership development, and the provision of member services. For more information, visit www.womensjewelryassociation.com
Lauren Thompson
WJA Public Relations Coordinator
(646) 658-5817